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Updated: October 19, 2013 16:15 IST
blast from the past

Kaveri (1959)

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Kaveri
Kaveri

Sivaji  Ganesan,  Padmini,  M.N. Nambiar,  Lalitha, N.S. Krishnan,  T.A. Mathuram,  E.R. Sahadevan,   T.E. Krishnamachari (TEK), Ragini, R. Balasubramaniam,  P.S. Veerappa,  D. Balasubramaniam,  T.K. Sampangi,  Kusalakumari,  Rushyendramani, M. Saroja,  K.S. Angamuthu, ‘Pulimoottai’ Ramasami, ‘Kottapuli’ Jayaraman, Karikol  Raju (dances), Rita  Dhanam

Sp. Letchumanan Chettiar popularly known in old Madras film and social circles as ‘Lena Chettiar’ or ‘Lena’ contributed much to the growth of Tamil cinema in the early days as a talent scout and producer. He began his life as a businessperson in his native Chettinad dealing in used cars of the expensive variety and as, a ‘drama contractor’. He created history when he printed handbills in Tamil about used cars for many of his rich clients in Chettinad  who could not read English. This novelty attracted much attention.

In those days ‘drama contractors’ used to stage what was known as ‘special drama’. There were plays organised  in villages and small towns featuring popular stage actors such as M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar (MKT).  Actors who were not associated with any ‘Boys Company’ were engaged by these contractors for a fee. Lena was one such contractor who went on to become  successful. (Of course, many black sheep in the trade ran away with the sale proceeds).

MKT acted in Lena’s popular play Pavalakodi along with star actress S.D. Subbulakshmi. The play was a hit not only in the Tamil-speaking districts of South India but also in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and other places in the Far East. When Bhagavathar had made enough money to launch his first film, Lena, a persuasive man managed to bring him on board his company and offered to produce the film himself. He convinced MKT of the dangers of turning producer when he knew little about the industry. Pavalakodi (1934) directed by the sadly neglected Indian film pioneer, K. Subramanyam turned out to be a big hit. With this Lena  settled down in Madras  (T. Nagar) and started his own company Krishna Pictures. The office was located on Thanikachalam Street in T. Nagar, and was a well-known landmark in the city then.

When Bhagavathar returned from prison after being incarcerated for nearly 30 months on account of the sensational Lakshmikantham Murder Case, he attempted to stage a comeback, which did not prove successful. Lena wanted to launch MKT under his banner with a story called Bhairavi about a musician who has fallen on hard times. The story goes that the musician, an expert in the raga Bhairavi, pledges the raga to a rich man for a sum of money under the condition that he would not seek the raga until he repaid the money! The story was written by the noted Tamil filmmaker A.S.A. Sami based on a real musician, an expert in the raga Shankarabharanam. However Lena  had second thoughts after the failure of Bhagavathar’s other films like Raja Mukthi.  So he  dropped  the project and launched a new production, Kaveri written by Sami and directed by the noted Telugu and Tamil film director of the day D. Yoganand, who had trained under maestro L.V. Prasad. 

Sivaji Ganesan was by then an iconic figure of Tamil cinema and he played the hero with Padmini and Lalitha as the two women in love with him, one being a dancer and the other a princess.

A story of two rival kings, played by R. Balasubramaniam and T.E. Krishnamachari, Sivaji Ganesan is the son of the latter. Krishnamachari is under the influence of an ambitious  spiritual guru (Nambiar) who manipulates the king for his own ends. The prince works hard to prevent him from achieving his designs. He moves around the kingdom incognito fighting for people’s rights. During this time he meets and falls in love with a dancer (Padmini). The rival king’s daughter Lalitha is also in love with him... The wily advisor (Veerappa) of the other king tries to work out things in his favour and marry the dancer. After many twists and turns, the villains are exposed and the princess sacrifices her love in favour of the dancer…

The dances were choreographed by Sohanlal and Hiralal, and lyrics were by Udumalai Narayana Kavi with music direction by G. Ramanathan, C.S. Jayaraman, and Viswanathan-Ramamurthi. There was also a folk song and dance by N.S. Krishnan and T.A. Mathuram. Interestingly Jayaraman lent his voice for songs featuring Sivaji Ganesan, and this was before T.M. Soundararajan became the voice of top stars of the day such as Sivaji Ganesan, MGR and others.

Kaveri was a box office success running for 100 days in many centres of the state.

Remembered for: The storyline and good performances by Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini, Nambiar, Lalitha, Veerappa, tuneful music, and song and dance sequences…

It is great to see the contribution of Lena Chettiar for the growth of
Tamil Cinema. Those days plays like Valli Thirumanam and Arichandra
Mayana Kandam were staged during the festival season (we call
Thiruvizha) in the month of Chitrai (April-May) in many parts of
Chettinad region. These plays were instrumental in bringing out the
drama skills of local artists and also binding the cultural interests
of rural community. Over the years the attraction was shifted towards
screening the hit Tamil movies and having musical entertainment
through orchestra. The stage for displaying the original drama skills
started diminishing. Lena chettiar has accumulated the rural
experience and transferred it efficiently for Tamil cinema
development. These rural based plays have to be revived and blended
with modern glamorous attraction for showcasing the talents of rural
drama artists.

from:  M Valliappan
Posted on: Oct 20, 2013 at 19:02 IST
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